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Inviting healthy habits and making friends with the parts that stop you

We all have behaviors we were once doing pretty consistently before the pandemic, behaviors that were nourishing to our mind, body, and spirit but took a pause due to the potential dangers of the current moment and the stressors we were all facing.

Maybe these behaviors looked like going to the gym on a weekly basis, getting monthly massages, or meeting up with friends to catch up. Some people may have started staying up at night, eating foods and liquids that have very little nourishment to our bodies, or staying inside on the couch instead of moving our bodies on a consistent basis.

Whatever your current behaviors may look like now, it is possible to invite healthy behaviors back into your daily routine.

It can be helpful when thinking about inviting in a new behavior to pause and notice what part of you keeps you from doing said behavior. We all have a part of us that says things like, “Don’t go for a walk, just stay here where it’s warm and cozy,” or, “You deserve to drink that soda, don’t worry about drinking water.” It’s very easy to get blended with these parts of us that mean well, but ultimately keep us from engaging in the healthy habits we wish to invite into our life.

So instead of trying to reject these parts or get frustrated with them, we turn towards them, recognize that this is a part of you (not all of you that feels this way), welcome it, and listen to what it has to say with compassion and curiosity. Let it know the meaning of why you are choosing to invite this healthy behavior into your life. This will help the part see the importance and seriousness of your intention with this action.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel provide recommendations for inviting in healthy behaviors in their book, The Telomere Effect.

First, think of something you would like to invite into your life, something that is a healthy behavior either for your mind, body, or spirit. On a scale of 1-10 (1 meaning not ready and 10 being extremely ready), rate your readiness to make this change and invite in this behavior.

If you rank your readiness at a 6 or lower, go to the question below to explore what truly motivates you. Then, rate your readiness again. If your readiness score does not increase, then choose a different goal. Focus on one small behavior you feel ready to focus on now.

Second, ask yourself what things are most important to you in regards to your personal values. Try to tie your goal to your deepest priorities in life. An example would be “I want to begin walking because I want to be healthy and independent in my home for as long as possible”.

The tighter your connection between your goal and your values and priorities, the more likely you are to stick with the change. Find your motivation of why you are doing this. Take a mental snapshot of the answer, an image you can use in those difficult moments when that part of you is looking hard for a way out of the new behavior.

Third, on a scale of 1-10, ask yourself how confident are you that you can make this change. If you are at a 6 or lower, change your goal to make it smaller and easier to achieve. Identify any obstacles that dragged your rating down and make a realistic plan for overcoming them. Think of a past proud moment when you overcome an obstacle. Achieving a small part of our goal boosts our confidence further and motivates us to keep going. Consider whether you’re trying to create a new habit or to break an old one. The answer will determine what strategies apply to you.

Tips for creating new habits:

Small changes: Small doses of the new habit first, then build slowly Staple it: Tack your small change onto an activity that’s already a routine part of your day Mornings: Try to schedule your change for the morning, more likely to do it Don’t decide, just do: When it’s time to do your healthy behavior, don’t ask yourself “should I?”, just do it Celebrate it: Have a quick mini-celebration each time your practice your new habit

Tips for breaking old habits:

Increase brain’s ability to execute your plans: Increase activity in the pre-frontal cortex and reduce activity in the amygdala. Do this with movement, relaxation meditations, and foods that are high in quality protein Don’t try the change when you are feeling depleted: Stimulus control, we attempt control over our environment as much as we can so we are not surrounded by the tempting stimuli, ex. Sodas, candy, cigarettes, etc. Follow your natural alertness rhythms: You’ll have more energy for willpower if you attempt this change during the time of day you feel most energized, night owl versus morning person Social support: Ask your family and friends to help support your new goal

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